Advocates back stronger anti-bullying
legislation; call on Legislature to take action
SALEM, Oregon, March 4, 2009 – A coalition of advocacy groups today released a pair of reports pointing to the prevalence of bullying in Oregon schools, calling the hostile campus climate a serious detriment to educational achievement.
The groups are joining with lawmakers to strengthen Oregon’s anti-bullying law and create safeguards for youth in Oregon schools.
A new report, Too Afraid to Learn: Barriers to Post-Secondary Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students, analyses a survey of 3,500 Oregon college students about the climate for gay and transgender students at high schools and universities.
“One in three gay and transgender students in Oregon indicate that the hostile climate in their high school created a significant barrier to graduation,” said Tash Shatz, of the Oregon Students Equal Rights Alliance.
“And more than half of gay and transgender college students concealed their sexual orientation or gender identity for fear of personal safety, discrimination, or rejection.”
Scott Schmitz, a junior at Oregon State University told the report’s authors: “One of the reasons I decided to come out as gay to my family, when I was nineteen rather than thirteen, was because I was afraid of becoming homeless.
“When I did come out my family pushed me away and made it explicit that if I didn’t change they wouldn’t talk to me again.
“After telling them that my sexuality was not a phase, I was cut off from them. I did not expect that they were going to stop supporting my education.
“I was not allowed home for Christmas or Thanksgiving and the communication we had was limited.”
And his problems did not end there. When he tried to apply for financial aid for his university education he came up against bureaucracy as his parents refused to supply him with their tax information which had to accompany the financial aid application.
The report makes seven key recommendations:
A second report demonstrates that minority youth are far more likely to be the targets of bullies than white youth.
“African American, Latino and Native American youth report up to 23% higher levels of harassment in our schools than white students,” said Ebony Smith, of the Oregon Students of Color Coalition.
“We have a responsibility to take action now, to ensure that our schools are safe for all youth.”
Advocates released these reports as the Legislature begins deliberations on House Bill 2599, legislation designed to strengthen and enhance Oregon’s existing anti-bullying statute.
HB2599 would ensure state-wide adoption of anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies, create clear notice and complaint procedures and establish a comprehensive approach to address bullying.
The proposal strengthens existing statute by clarifying the definition of bullying, adding specific guidelines for making the policy available to the school community, and encouraging training programs. The legislation is expected to have its first hearing in the House Education Committee in early March.
“House Bill 2599 will strengthen Oregon’s anti-bullying law, ensure state-wide implementation, and help keep all children safe,” said Sonya Fischer, a disability advocate and Board Member with Family and Community Together.
She added, “This will make a difference for youth with disabilities who are too often the targets of bullying.”
Matthew Rose, a University of Oregon senior said: “Four and a half years ago, when I first attended the University of Oregon, I was a closeted person of colour. Going to college was going to be an opportunity to explore my identity in a place that I thought would embrace my development and growth.
“Despite the relatively liberal nature of my surroundings, words and phrases such as “faggot” and “that’s so gay” were commonplace, and even when said in front of authority figures, there were little to no responses.
“The homophobic environment made me think twice about coming out. I fight the daily battle to challenge racism and negative stereotypes of Black Americans.
“I was not ready to be in another fight, especially, when no one else was leading the charge. Finding the support to deal with my identity in a healthy manner was difficult.
“The University of Oregon does have resources for the LGBT community; however as a person of colour these spaces do not really resonate with me. I strongly identified with my racial identity and had only newly come into my sexual identity; I felt there wasn’t a space where I could be fine with both.”
House Education Committee Chair, Rep. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis), joined advocates today at the launch of the two reports.
“All kids should grow up free from fear of intimidation and harassment at school,” she said.
“By strengthening school anti-bullying policies, we can make Oregon schools safer, stronger and more secure.”
Rep. Gelser, a mother of four, chairs the House committee that is considering legislation to update and strengthen the bullying statute.
■ Click HERE for Too Afraid to Learn: Barriers to Post-Secondary Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Students.
■ Click HERE for No End In Sight: An Examination of Oregon Healthy Teens Survey reports of harassment of youth of color in Oregon Schools.